Sydney Harris Practice Realism
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Sydney J. Harris on How to Be a Musical Realist


“An idealist believes that the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.”

Sydney J. Harris

Each time we sit down and pick up our instruments, we have the opportunity to craft our life of music. We either practice or we play.

If we work on specific exercises or techniques, we improve over time. And not only that, we also get the daily satisfaction of meaningful work. We overcome obstacles, solve problems, and meet challenges.

“Practice” is the act of working on specific things with the goal of improving them.

We also need “play”.

The goal of “play” is to enjoy the moment and the act of playing. We practice so that we can play. We play to give meaning and context to practice.

One purpose of practice is the daily satisfaction and focus. Another is to facilitate play.

We have limited practice minutes each day. How we use them will determine how satisfying that daily time feels. And it will make play more rewarding over time.

The best way to ensure a joyful life of music, is to practice – to work on specific things, with complete attention. And sometimes just play.

What specific things should we work on? This changes over time. It almost doesn’t matter – so long as we work to improve something specific. And that what we work on is appropriate for our current skill-level.

It could be changing chords, connecting notes, or sight-reading. It could be learning new notes in a piece of music. Or polishing music we already know.

In any given day, the content is less important than the level of attention and the clarity of the task.

What we do today, and how we do it, will pave the path for tomorrow and beyond.



allen mathews classical guitar

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s.  Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well.  I struggled with excess tension.  My music sounded forced.  And my hands and body were often sore.  I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward.  Then, over the next decade, I studied with two stellar teachers –  one focused on the technical, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist).  In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifullyClick here for a sample formula.


I just want to thank you for your lessons. You are helping us to understand how a piece is composed, the parts to analyze and how to do it. You are teaching a lot about how to read and play, and the most important part: PLAY with the music and ENJOY it.


-R. Martinez

I came on board three months ago and I’m loving it more than ever. I have maintained my practice pattern. I’m sticking wholeheartedly with the program as written. That makes it easy to see what I NEED to work on rather than just playing the shiny places I’ve gone beyond…..I’ve learned to focus 100% on what I’m doing that very minute….I’m developing strength in my left hand...I spend time with the videos in the evenings and always find something more to help me. I’m not looking for info anywhere else. Everything I need is right here in The Woodshed. You say “Jump” and I say “How high.” I’m so grateful I found you. You speak in a language I understand.


-Gloria Mader


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Charles Poliquin  

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